Isa Nacewa: Young guns will ensure our dominance continues
Leinster will ‘push on for higher honours’ after fourth Champions Cup win
Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath and Fergus McFadden celebrate with the Champions Cup trophy after beating Racing 92 at San Mames Stadium, Bilbao, Spain. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Dynastic daydreaming. The Jordi Murphy trophy touch defines the character of older Leinster leaders. The gesture remains true to tradition, it radiates humility.
No one stands alone. Three times Leo Cullen refused to lift the Heineken Cup by himself. Same goes for Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton. Co-captains of late, they hustled Murphy forward, knowing full well the Blackrock man would prefer not to join Ulster this summer.
Needs must. Murphy’s ultimate personal goal is to become Ireland’s number seven but when contract negotiations were happening he was fourth choice Leinster openside behind Seán O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy. Number eight wasn’t considered until Jamie Heaslip, Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock were laid out. The decision followed a Joe Schmidt conversation.
Joey Carbery may follow him to Belfast to solve Ulster’s outhalf crisis.
Leinster have no such concern in any position.
“We are very lucky,” said Cullen. “We have clubs and schools that we rely very heavily on.”
There’s a slick pair of scrumhalves rising from Belvedere and Blackrock. The next O’Brien will be unearthed far quicker than it took sunny southeast seeds to bloom into Tadhg Furlong. All corners of the vineyard are carefully nurtured now.
“It’s pretty special,” said Nacewa, counting the days before taking leave of the place that shaped his wonderfully unplanned career. “There is a solid core group of guys who will be pushing on for higher honours after this. The club is in good shape going forward.
“A lot of these young guys contributed beyond anyone’s expectations. They are a hungry, hungry group but we have great leaders – Johnny, Rob, Seánie coming back – so the experience is there and with the young guys coming through makes for a good time to watch Leinster rugby.”
On his return from Paris, Sexton wondered if the cultural chatter had become lip service.
“I remember Brian O’Driscoll talking to us at the end of his career and how he wanted to finish with wins, finish it off the right way,” Sexton remembered. “He really drove the young guys along. Now it’s up to guys like me to drive these young guys on. We’re losing a few, Isa, Richardt Strauss who is a huge influence in the group. Jamie Heaslip too. So we’re going to have to get guys like Seán O’Brien back and really drive it on next year.”
Rob Kearney recently stated that their greed is good.
“They have that mindset, the winning mentality,” said Luke McGrath, the occasional captain who, at 25, could take the title in an official capacity as earlier as this summer. “They want to win more and more trophies.”
Saturday felt like the beginning of this journey. “Absolutely,” McGrath agreed. “We have such a young squad, so the future is definitely bright.
“In-house we spoke about putting that fourth star on the jersey. It probably won’t sink in for another few weeks, but looking back, no one can take it away from us.”
Now there is a clear target: surpass the Sexton/Kearney/Nacewa era. Make the jersey as shiny as the sky on a clear night.
“The younger lads would listen to Johnny and Isa speak all week. They’ve done it before and we follow.”
That must change. They will be ready.